‘Snowpiercer’ artist Jean-Marc Rochette talks English comic, film

Jan. 23, 2014 | 8:30 a.m.
snowpiercer vol 1 Snowpiercer artist Jean Marc Rochette talks English comic, film

The cover for "Snowpiercer: Volume 1: The Escape," the English version of the French graphic novel "Le Transperceneige" by Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand, and artist Jean-Marc Rochette. (Titan Comics)

In 1982, French writers Jacques Lob and Benjamin Legrand, and artist Jean-Marc Rochette collaborated on “Le Transperceneige,” a science-fiction graphic novel about the last of humanity aboard a train, endlessly coursing across frozen wasteland.

More than three decades later, the acclaimed comic is finally being released in English as “Snowpiercer,” and a film adaptation starring “Captain America” actor Chris Evans is due for U.S. release later this year.

Hero Complex readers get an exclusive look at several pages from the first “Snowpiercer” installment, “Volume 1: The Escape,” out next week from Titan Books. Check them out in the gallery above. “Volume 2: The Explorers” is slated for a Feb. 25 release.

A page from "Snowpiercer: Volume 1: The Escape." (Titan Books)

A page from “Snowpiercer: Volume 1: The Escape.” (Titan Books)

The sci-fi story is set on Snowpiercer, a train with 1,001 carriages carrying all surviving human life and traveling on an endless track across frozen Earth. The elite travel in the front of the train, near the engine, and enjoy a semblance of luxury and comfort. Those on the tail, however, face squalid living conditions and are condemned to short, miserable lives. The first volume follows Proloff, a refugee from the tail who journeys to the front, and the people he meets along the way.

The graphic novel also inspired the movie “Snowpiercer” from Joon-ho Bong, the award-winning director of the South Korean films “The Host,” “Mother,” “Memories of Murder” and more. The film stars Evans (“The Avengers”), John Hurt, Tilda Swinton, Alison Pill, Jamie Bell and Ed Harris. “Snowpiercer” artist Rochette’s hands also make a cameo as the hands of a painter (played by Clark Middleton) whose work is shown in the film.

Hero Complex caught up with Rochette about his thoughts on the English translation of “Le Transperceneige,” the movie version of “Snowpiercer” and the political and philosophical questions raised in the story.

Hero Complex: “Le Transperceneige” first came out in 1982. What are your feelings about its English release more than 30 years later?

A page from "Snowpiercer: Volume 1: The Escape." (Titan Books)

A page from “Snowpiercer: Volume 1: The Escape.” (Titan Books)

Jean-Marc Rochette: I’m very proud of course, because very few French comic books are translated into English. And I want to say here that my artistic comic book influences are mostly American. I am a great admirer of American artists such as [Frederick] Opper, [Rudolph] Dirks, [Elzie Crisler] Segar, Noel Sickles, [Will] Elder, Frank Robbins, [Richard] Corben, [Robert] Crumb and especially the great Alex Toth.

HC: Did you make any changes for the English edition?

JMR: Not the slightest change. The book is the same it was 32 years ago, with all its charm and all its weaknesses. I was so young back then, that when I read the comic book today I can feel like that beginner again, and I like that. It’s like traveling in time to my younger days.

HC: The comic is considered among the best sci-fi graphic novels. Did you have any idea at the time it would endure and be so respected?

JMR: I had no idea, really. I was only 25 years old, and it was my first sci-fi graphic novel, but I knew that Jacques Lob’s story was a very inspired philosophical fable. I remember that when “Transperceneige” was first published, the critics were very laudatory, for example in 1983 the newspaper Le Monde said it was “the best graphic novel of the second millennium.” Hmmm, I don’t know… But as we say in French, “aux innocents les mains pleines” (fortune favors the innocent)!

HC: You helped create such a compelling world — a post-apocalyptic wasteland where humans survive only on a train with deep class divisions and disparities. Were you trying to make a political statement at the time?

A page from "Snowpiercer: Volume 1: The Escape." (Titan Books)

A page from “Snowpiercer: Volume 1: The Escape.” (Titan Books)

JMR: This is very strange, because neither Jacques Lob nor me were very political, even though politics always was and is a national passion in France. But for us not really, I think we were more concerned with ecology at the time; I was an activist against nuclear power plants and Lob was also very concerned with pollution and animal protection, but I don’t remember any discussions between us about social inequality. Nevertheless this story is probably the most political graphic novel that I have ever read, and of course created.

HC: Why do you think the story is still relevant to a contemporary audience?

JMR: Now the inequality between the rich and the poor has never been greater, and it exists everywhere around the world… I think that perhaps this is the main reason why “Snowpiercer” really speaks to people in Korea, France and, I hope, soon in the USA.

HC: What’s it like to know that a film is being based on your work?

JMR: In this case, it was like winning the lottery — a kind of miracle — because the graphic novel was almost forgotten, and it so old (over 30 years old), and suddenly there is this Korean film director who found it by chance in a small bookstore in Seoul, on the other side of the world. But then, as we say in French, “In art, bad luck is a professional foul.” We were very lucky this time.

HC: Are there any particular scenes or images you created for the comic that you were most excited to see in the film?

JMR: All the scenes in the tail section of the train, and of course the scene with the painter of the poor, because I was the hand of the actor Clark Middleton. I did the paintings for the movie and it was a great challenge for me to draw in front of the camera.

HC: Obviously there will are changes to the story for the movie version, but did you have any expectations for the film?

JMR: I have already seen the movie six times: twice in Korea and four times in France. I know all the differences, and I can say that Joon-ho chose the perfect manner to translate our book. A movie and a comic book are very different art forms; you have to find a new way to tell the same story. But he kept the spirit of the story.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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